How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumption Habits?


Not too long ago, before empty grocery store aisles and excess hoarding of toilet paper became the new normal, Americans used to spend X amount of money each week on coffee, dining, and groceries. So how much have consumption habits changed since the onset of this pandemic? Let’s take a look at what the average American would typically spend on these goods before the COVID-19 crisis, and then compare that with today’s situation to gain a better sense of how differently we spend today.


Pre-pandemic spending patterns:

Each week, the average American spends some $20 per week on coffee, which amounts to around $3 per cup per day. And just a few hours after washing down that morning Java, it’s already time for lunch. According to a 2015 survey by Visa, the average American spends around $53 per week on lunch, or $7.64 per day. Moreover, we spend over $7,700 per year on groceries, which translates to another $148 per week spent. So, if we combine the amount of money that we used to spend on coffee, lunch, and groceries per week before the pandemic, the rough estimate amounts to $221 per week.

Pandemic spending patterns:

Since there is no official data regarding current pandemic spending patterns, I will use my own economic intuition to answer this. For starters, I guarantee you that Americans are spending less money than usual on coffee. Waiting for over 30 minutes every day to get your morning cup of Joe at the Starbucks drive thru is not particularly appealing to most, and the lot of us can live without caffeine if need be. In that case, let’s say that the original $20 per week drops to $10 per week (meaning that Americans are spending half as much money on coffee as they used to).

Now, moving on to lunch. There isn’t much of a difference between curbside pickup and dining out at a restaurant in terms of effort: you still have to drive to the restaurant to get your food. And since the majority of restaurants (at least in Minneapolis), continue to function thanks to the option of curbside pickup, people will probably continue to order lunch at the same rate as before the pandemic. Therefore, I will maintain the same estimate of $53 spent per week as part of the reflection of today’s consumption patterns.

Spending habits get a little bit more interesting when we look at how much grocery store receipts have changed. For starters, the first couple of weeks of pandemic spending effectively ruptured supply chains across the United States. Meat, poultry, canned products, dry products, and the infamous toilet paper, were practically wiped out in seconds. As a result of stockpiling, the consumer likely more than doubled his or her money spent on groceries while in full-on panic and crisis mode. Because of this, I postulate that the average American spent anywhere from $300–$500 during the first couple of hysteria-fueled weeks. Right now however, people have seemed to calm down, but continue to hoard supplies “just in case.” And who can blame them? Since things have tamed down a bit, my current estimate for average spending on groceries per week sits at around $250. Therefore, when taking the pandemic situation into account, average spending per week has increased from $221 to $313 per week (combining coffee, dinner, and groceries). Here is a visual representation of what that looks like:

As you can see, based on my calculations, there has been a 0.42% increase in the consumption spending patterns of the average American as a result of the pandemic. Of course, this is just an estimate on my part. However, seeing as though people continue to order food and continue to stockpile groceries, this number should not come as a complete surprise––and I ultimately hope that this information encourages you to become more mindful of your pandemic spending habits.

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